Milwaukee Brewers: Corey Knebel, Cy Young candidate?

Matthew Dewoskin
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 01: Corey Knebel
MILWAUKEE, WI - SEPTEMBER 01: Corey Knebel /
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Milwaukee Brewers closer Corey Knebel has turned the corner in his career. He started the season as a dynamic, young reliever with upside, but he’s become one of the best closers in the National League. Should he get consideration when awards season rolls around?

Milwaukee Brewers closer Corey Knebel has already earned the National League Reliever of the Month award for August, but he could earn even more hardware this off season. Knebel has developed into the next truly dominant closer. While it’s rare for relief pitchers to win the Cy Young Award, Knebel is worthy of consideration.

How impressive was Knebel in 2017?

Very. According to FanGraphs, Corey Knebel is a 2.6 WAR pitcher. A relievers with only 67 innings pitched don’t often earn WAR numbers that high. In addition to his WAR total, Knebel also owns a 1.34 ERA with a 1.16 WHIP. He’s struck out 113 batters while walking 36. That’s 113 strikeouts in 67 innings. That means Knebel has made over 40% of the batters he’s faced this year walk back to the dugout after strike three.

Corey Knebel has entered the game in either a save or hold situation 49 times this year. He’s converted 44. That’s not Eric Gagne-level, 84-straight save opportunities converted, but it’s about as close as a closer can get to ‘Game Over’.

Why is Knebel so dominant?

Knebel gives hitters a choice between his fastball and knuckle curve. The fastball averages over 97 MPH with movement, while the curve has a nasty bite to it. Both pitches are good enough to generate more swing and misses than average, but the curve also results in ground balls. Either way, hitters haven’t had much of a chance.

When was the last time a relief pitcher won the Cy Young Award?

Gagne won in 2003. Dennis Eckersly also earned the award in 1992 in the American League. The last time a Milwaukee Brewers reliever won the award was Rollie Fingers in 1981.

Does Knebel have a chance?

Not really, no. BBWAA members tend to favor starting pitchers over relievers unless presented with overwhelming evidence. Knebel has been dominant this season, but he’s not quite at the same level as Eckersly in 1992 or Gagne in 2003. However, a deep run in the post season could further influence voters.

The fact that Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have also dominated hitters this year doesn’t help Knebel. There’s also a case for Kenley Jansen as the best reliever in the National League. It looks like Knebel has a shot at a top five finish, but he’s on the outside looking in.

Next: Who will replace Jimmy Nelson?

Corey Knebel has solidified the Milwaukee Brewers bullpen for this season and years to come. He has developed into a truly dominant reliever who will get his share of votes for the National League Cy Young Award. Knebel is unlikely to take the most coveted pitching award in baseball home, but that doesn’t make his season any less special or less fun.

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